You wouldn’t think that gun owners have a stake in whether to ban greyhound racing in Florida.
But that’s what Florida’s NRA lobbyist thinks. I’ll explain.
In November, Florida voters will be asked to vote on a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit betting on dog races in the state after the year 2020.
The amendment got on the ballot by a 27-10 vote of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, a body that’s assembled once every 20 years to look at making changes to the state constitution. The greyhound measure was forwarded by a bi-partisan group of former and current lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Florida Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Groups lined up to support or oppose the measure in ways you might imagine: A slew of animal rights groups, including the Doris Day Animal League, supported the measure, while The Florida Greyhound Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce were among those groups opposed.
The Florida Greyhound Association tried to get the measure, which would become Amendment 13, thrown off the ballot. The group was temporarily successful when Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the ballot language was too deceptive.
“In short, proposed Amendment 13 is misleading and inaccurate and incomplete, while adding up to a ‘hide the ball,’ ‘fly a false flag’ and outright ‘trickeration,’ ” the judge wrote.
Gievers opined that the obscured effect of the amendment was to allow Florida dog tracks that were no longer permitted to hold races to operate as casinos with their card rooms and slot machines, even though those gambling activities had always been contingent on their operation of parimutuel greyhound racing.
But it was another objection Gievers had to the ballot language that caught the attention of the NRA.
Gievers wondered if voters would even realize that in the fine print of this Amendment, the “humane treatment of animals” would become a “fundamental value” in the state constitution.
Gievers’ ruling was overturned this month by the Florida Supreme Court on a 6-1 vote. The majority of the justices took issue with Gievers’ strong condemnation of the measure’s wording, finding that “the ballot language does not mislead voters with respect to Amendment 13’s scope.”
As for the part about the humane treatment of animals, the high court ruled that the “fundamental value” language in the ballot amendment was merely prefatory and without “independent legal significance.”
The justices noted that “it is well settled that the Florida Constitution permits the Legislature to impose civil and criminal penalties for inhumane treatment of animals.”
But gun-rights lobbyist Marion Hammer, the powerful voice of the NRA in Florida, saw something disturbing in the humane-treatment language. She considered it a potential new path to attack gun rights in Florida.
The “humane treatment” language in the Florida Constitution could mean that “extreme animal rights organizations will have a new constitutional standard to challenge any and all activities they find objectionable,” Hammer wrote to the group’s members. “In short, many suspect their first action will be to immediately begin work to ban all hunting and fishing.”
The pro-Amendment forces, such as Protect Dogs Yes on 13, make the argument that greyhound racing encourages the mistreatment of the breed.
“Thousands are bred annually — many more than are needed to race — in an attempt to create the fastest dogs,” the group says on its website. “These social dogs are forced to spend most of their time alone, confined in warehouse-style kennels with rows of double-stacked cages for 20-23 hours a day.”
The complaint is specific to greyhounds. And I’m not sure how you get from there to banning bass fishing or feral hog hunting in a state that has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country.
But the NRA’s new interest in this issue is significant. Until now, most of the money has gone to supporters of the ban. And a public opinion poll commissioned by the Florida Chamber of Commerce found that state voters supported the ban on greyhound racing by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin, with 17 percent of voters undecided.
That’s a lot of undecided voters. And with the NRA on alert, that might change things.
Who could have imagined that stating support for the “humane treatment of animals” could be seen as such an alarming threat in Florida?